Without repairs to his wheelchair, a West Philly man is forced into a hermetic existence.
Lars Winberg is trapped in his apartment. The apartment—which real estate agents might generously call a “junior” one-bedroom—is too small for Lars, or at least for Lars 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With a kitchen that shares space with the living room, and a small bedroom besides that, there’s hardly any room to turn around. Especially if you’re in a very cumbersome broken-down electric wheelchair, as Lars is.
Lars doesn’t want to be there, every day, sitting in that chair, feet splayed out at an odd angle. But he can’t go anywhere until he gets a new wheelchair and he can’t get a new wheelchair until he has a job and he can’t get a job until he has a new wheelchair. Got that?
This wheelchair came from the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), the state agency that helps people with disabilities get work. His current chair allowed him to work at Fresh Grocer at 40th and Walnut, near his place in West Philly. You probably saw him there if you lived in the area: big guy, 50, long hair, wide smile—the kind of guy you could see on the back of a Harley, only Lars’ Harley is his busted wheelchair.
I wouldn’t know about Lars if it weren’t for boxer/actor Tex Cobb, best known as the hired gun in Raising Arizona who barrels down the highway on a motorcycle and picks up the baby who’s kicking its tiny feet in a carseat on the double yellow lines. Cobb lives in Philly, and he gave me a call.
“I got a friend named Lars who’s trapped in his apartment,” some gruff-voiced guy said, though I didn’t catch his name.
When I told him I was on deadline, he said irritably, “Come on, Liz. You’re always on deadline.” He left me a number and said to call him there the next day.
“And your name?” I asked.
“Tex Cobb!” he said, and slammed the phone down.
The next day, I tried to call Tex back at the number he left. It was Lars’ number. Well-played, sir. In just 10 minutes on the phone, I knew Lars and I had to meet.
Lars Winberg was born with cerebral palsy in Jersey City and remanded to state custody at 3. Until 18, he was a ward of the state, in and out of foster homes, special schools and hospitals for multiple operations on his bent legs. He was never offered any education. But this sad past isn’t what Lars talks about when we first meet. Instead, when I walk into his small apartment and sit down, he launches into a digressive and humorous conversation about the medical superfluity of circumcision, NPR and how shitty it is to have a therapist who’s not disabled.
Then he says: “There is no God, no definable God, you know, a guy with a beard. First off, what person who lived in a region where there were sheep—because they were all sheepherders—had a beard? The lice would infest all of your hair. They didn’t have bathtubs back when Jesus was walking this earth, if he ever did—and he didn’t. Jesus never walked this earth. Jesus was a control method. Religion is a control method. I am across-the-board, straight-off-the-top, a human being. I don’t care about your religious viewpoint.”
I remember when the first arcade videogame touched down in Center City, around 1979. It landed at 18th and Spruce at Day’s Deli, a diner/convenience store. The game was near the cash register so the cashier could chastise us if we shook the machine (which didn’t work the way it did with pinball) or cheat by feeding it Canadian pennies. A year later, its novelty was gone: Videogame parlors crowded Chestnut Street—with everything from Asteroids and Space Invaders to Galaga and Ye Olde Pinballe in the back. Those were days, I’ve been told, that videogame aficionados think of as a golden age, and it was the last time I could call myself an experienced gamer. Recently,...
Every now and then I decide to clean out my bookshelves. Within about 10 minutes, I find a little gem I've forgotten about, and the cleaning is abandoned for a comfy seat on the couch. Other times, o...
I got an email from my mother last week with the subject line: "We have a black president now." It would've seemed a banal observation if I didn't open the email, which read: "The word 'shvartze' is ...